Update The PMO issued the following release shortly before 9 a.m. this morning:
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER NAMES FIVE OUTSTANDING CANADIANS TO SENATE
OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper today filled five vacancies in the Senate. The appointments are another step toward implementing the Government's tackling-crime agenda and respecting the will of the democratically-elected House of Commons.
Appointed are Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu (QC), Bob Runciman (ON), Vim Kochhar (ON), Elizabeth (Beth) Marshall (NL) and Rose-May Poirier (NB). These appointments give the Government a plurality of seats in the Upper House.
"Our government is serious about getting tough on crime. Since we were first elected, we have made it one of our highest priorities," said the Prime Minister. "The Liberals have abused their Senate majority by obstructing and eviscerating law and order measures that are urgently needed and strongly supported by Canadians."
"These new Senators are committed to community safety and justice for the victims of crime," said the Prime Minister. "I look forward to working with each towards making our communities safer and protecting families from crime."
The incoming Senators fill single vacancies in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick, as well as two vacancies in Ontario. They have also pledged to support the Government in its efforts to make the Senate more democratic and accountable, including legislation to limit Senate terms to eight years.
"Our government will continue to push for a more democratic, accountable and effective Senate," said the Prime Minister.
The appointments are effective immediately, with the exception of Rose-May Poirier's appointment, which is effective February 28, 2010.
1. Rocketing to the Red Chamber. Some guffaws today as Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on his way to Newfoundland and Labrador where the big news is about the strange UFO-like sighting in the night sky.
"No it wasn't Danny going off," a Tory strategist says of Premier Danny Williams, whose relationship with Mr. Harper is not exactly warm. (However, it should be said that like that rocket or missile, their relationship has been on an upward trajectory since Prince Charles's visit last fall. The PM and Premier spent some quality time together and bonded?)
It is expected, meanwhile, that one of the PM's new senators - he is to name five to the Red Chamber today - will be with him during his visit on the Rock as one of the vacancies is from the province. What isn't clear, however, is whether the new Newfoundland senator will be Loyola Hearn, the former federal fisheries minister, or Loyola Sullivan, a former provincial minister. (Some good money was being placed this morning on Mr. Sullivan getting the nod.)
Prime Minister Harper is to meet with Premier Williams and he is also to address the Canadian Construction Association. Remember, that on a visit to Quebec last August he appeared with hockey coach Jacques Demers, who that day was named to the Senate. "That profiling was done in a region where the party was looking to win seats," the Tory strategist says. Indeed, the Tories have no seats in the Newfoundland and Labrador as a result of Mr. Williams's "anything but Conservative" campaign during the last election.
It is expected that one of the Prime Minister's messages will be that, despite the appointments, "reform remains a reality."
"That is not a bad approach given the criticism that will come with this appointment and some of the prorogation blowback on making parliament work," the strategist says. And about that UFO/rocket? "Clearly, now we have evidence it was the new senator celebrating news of his appointment - rocketing to the Red Chamber."
2. Stephen Harper is a changed man. The Prime Minister is returning from Davos, Switzerland, today where he talked about his main theme for the summer G8 summit in Muskoka: improving maternal and child health care in the developing world. The cynics out there wondered why Mr. Harper, who doesn't present as the tactile, baby-kissing breed of politician - he was once photographed shaking hands with his daughter and son as he dropped them off at school - would suddenly be so interested in the plight of mothers and babies.
His office says this was his personal initiative. Indeed, a source very close to him says that the Prime Minister, "like any man changes when he gets married and then changes again when they get a daughter."
A Conservative strategist says the Haiti crisis certainly has demonstrated his leadership and "his compassion."
"Like many Canadians he doesn't wear it on his sleeve everyday but he does want to make a difference. I remember reading something Deb Grey [the first-ever elected Reform MP]said a number of years back about how when the PM got married and had children his view of the world matured."
The Prime Minister's former mentor and strategic adviser Tom Flanagan, however, is slightly more circumspect: "I know Stephen loves his mother and his children, although I have not idea how this translates into policy for international organizations."
We'll see this summer.
3. 'The right amount' on Haiti. A new EKOS poll suggests Canadians believe the Harper government's efforts at providing humanitarian aid and relief to Haiti after the earthquake was appropriate.
However, when asked their views on "fast-tracking" Haitian immigration, the poll shows that 43 per cent disagree with expediting the process while 47 per cent agree that it should be. EKOS found that when that issue is broken down on a partisan basis, 52 per cent of the Tory respondents disagree with fast-tracking compared to 36 per cent for the Liberals.
Meanwhile, 63 per cent of respondents believe that the focus of Canadian assistance in Haiti should be long-term to rebuild the country rather than short-term humanitarian assistance. The poll of 3,206 Canadians was conducted between January 20 and 26.
(Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail)